Federal Regulators Stop South Florida Debt Collection Scheme [7-21-15]
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Marcia Heroux Pounds
Published July 18, 2015
The Federal Trade Commission has permanently blocked an operation that regulators say bilked millions of dollars from Spanish-speaking consumers nationwide by tricking them into paying bogus debts.
The operators agreed to settle FTC complaints alleging that they posed as court representatives and threatened consumers with lawsuits, arrest and immigration investigations unless they paid up on the debts.
For immigrants, “that’s a scary call to get,” said FTC lawyer Janice Kopec.
Nationwide, there were more than 10,000 victims of the scheme, Kopec said. The FTC will sell condominium and apartment properties owned by the operators, which it hopes will raise $700,000 to $800,000 to help reimburse victims, she said.
The FTC filed a complaint last year in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida against Centro Natural Corp., Sunmore LLC and individuals from the companies: Carolina Orellana, Damian Bondi, Jessica Anzola, Javier Sumbre and Susana Sumbre. A temporary restraining order was issued Oct. 20.
Orellana led a telemarketing firm out of Argentina, which worked with Sunmore and when that closed, opened Centro Natural Corp., Kopec said.
Centro Natural Corp. is registered at 5220 S. University Drive in Davie. Sunmore operated at 2404 NE 9th St. in Hallandale Beach, the FTC said. Both entities also did business at 1001 N. Federal Highway in Hallandale, the complaint says.
The FTC complaint also names Bionore Inc. in Pembroke Pines and West Park, Jager International Inc. in Aventura, Allianza Inmobiliaria Corp. in Aventura and Jorge Sumbre, who regulators said profited from the scheme.
Defendants couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Thursday.
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants called consumers repeatedly about supposed debts ranging from $3,000 to $9,000. Many of those calls were to numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry, the FTC said. In many cases, callers demanded payments of $300 to $500 to settle the debts, according to the complaint.
The operation took in more than $2 million from consumers from 2011 to 2014, the complaint said.
The settlement orders judgments totaling nearly $6.8 million, which are being suspended with the transfer of about $776,000 worth of assets, including Florida real estate. There’s also a $172,000 judgment against the company Allianza Inmobiliaria.
Federal law dictates how and when a debt collector may contact a consumer: not before 8 a.m., after 9 p.m., or while at work, if the collector knows the employer doesn’t approve of such calls. Collectors cannot harass, lie or use unfair practicies when they try to collect a debt. And they must honor a written request to stop further contact, according to the FTC.